Frans Lanting’s lavishly illustrated, large-format book, Life: A Journey Through Time, was almost a decade in the making and tells the story of life on Earth from its earliest beginnings, utilising stunning images of eye-catching creatures and geological formations found in the present.
The origins of the Rotterdam-born nature photographer’s latest project lie in the fact that he shoots many assignments digitally for magazines, including National Geographic, that place him in the fortunate position of traversing the globe, camera in hand.
‘I wanted to put together a book that shows a bigger and broader perspective on nature,’ he recalls. ‘I wanted to go back in time and explore the roots of biodiversity. It’s an interesting challenge because photography is associated with capturing the present – we’re always chasing moments. Yet for this project I wanted to show the past.’
With all the images in the book previously unpublished, through research and talking to scientists Lanting found that there were still opportunities to picture what had happened during our planet’s formation all those millions of years ago. ‘If you look hard enough,’ he reveals, ‘the signs are still everywhere.’Throughout the ‘Life…’ shoot, Lanting thought of himself not so much as an archaeologist, but more like a time traveller. ‘I’m used to going around the world travelling through space on assignments, but on this occasion I was travelling through time,’ he adds, enigmatically, of the years spent piecing the project together.
The results exist not only as a book, but also as a one-hour multimedia experience with music by Philip Glass. The latter has been “performed” in California, where Lanting is currently based, and in Holland, while there is also a dedicated website.
Lanting, a Nikon DSLR convert, feels it’s important that today’s photographer takes advantage of the numerous new ways of sharing imagery now available. ‘You can’t practise photography the same way as people did decades ago before there were other mediums of expression,’ he says. ‘With something this epic, it cried out to be translated into other forms. You reach more people that way.’
Narrowing down which digital images to include in the ‘Life…’ book was a big puzzle for Lanting: ‘If your aim is to show the history of life on Earth, everything in front of you is fair game, but I had to choose,’ he nods. ‘It’s not an encyclopaedia, but there’s a storyline, which is as important as the images themselves – it begins with the Big Bang and ends in the present. I wanted to present a view of nature that shows what we, as humans, have evolved out of.’